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Archive for June, 2014

It started in high school when I landed a job in a union nursing home and overtime was my “ticket” (bad phraseology) to my hot red, black vinyl top Capri. Money comes at a price. Double-shifts on weekends, missing some holidays, Mom’s sauce, teen social things and a vague sense that there was something beyond three-squares…of the patients, that is. I worked in the kitchen.

In my junior year at college, I spent more time at the radio station than I did at classes and even parties. I remember the last day of my one-year term as station manager, I walked outside the student center with a guy I considered a close friend, Jim Compton, and bawled over having lost touch with him – and he was a DJ at the same station! My position and responsibilities had turned us into passing ships in the night.

And then there was the time at the restaurant where I moonlighted. Working nights, I missed tucking my daughter into bed. “Daddy!” It sounded just like my Guinevere. I whirled around hoping for a surprise visit from my wife and … What was I thinking? We only had one car and I had it. It was a little girl at one of my tables. I bolted into the bathroom and began sobbing, turning the water on and flushing the toilet so that no one could hear me.

Speeding up to the present, a good friend who lives down the street called to tell me how much time he’s spending in jail and that’s why we haven’t connected lately. Fortunately, he guards the inmates and isn’t one of them. He needs the overtime and wasn’t complaining, but he had the feeling that he had lost touch with everyone and everything. He happened to catch me at a lonely moment myself and I was the perfect set-up for misery-loves-company. I had been pinned to my computer for too much of a relentlessly biting winter and a late-breaking Spring.

The tension is that a lot gets accomplished during these long bouts of achievement. But, then you face a serious bout of disconnectedness.

In part, that’s what songwriters are for; especially country ones. I happen to be one. I came across a download called “Hello World” recorded by Lady Antebellum. It was co-written by Tom Douglas, Tony Lane and David Lee. They are some of Nashville’s gold as they say. I only met Tom once. Every time his fingers touch the keys, a story begins. I was pretty smitten with the way he weaves a tale. Ironically, he told me to enjoy the process of songwriting. Don’t strive. In other words, enjoy your life wherever you’re at now. I really do enjoy writing. I had a free day today. I spent all day writing. But, other than our kitty rubbing against me and creating some havoc on my laptop keys, I am alone as I tap this out to you. I think Tom Douglas understands what it’s like to be a bit of an island, or to mix a metaphor, a boat that searches for that one perfect island only to miss all of the sunrises and sunsets along the way.

“Hello World” is a reacquaintance song. Something snaps you back. You suddenly remember what you’re missing. In the song, it’s a little girl and a little church. People, God. Lose touch with those and you’ve lost touch. Period. We all go through things that pull us away. But tragedy awaits if you don’t feel the pull.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons why God made little girls.

BELOW: CHECK OUT “HELLO WORLD” ON YOUTUBE. THERE’S A REASON WHY IT HAS OVER SIX MILLION HITS.

                                                  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=al2DFQEZl4M

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Doctors and physical therapists are all too familiar with “repetitive strain injuries.” These are musculoskeletal and nervous system maladies causes by a repetition of motion, usually do to a particular lifestyle.

In my case, being a righty guitar player makes my right hip aggravates my right hip as I strain it to the left. The same motion causes my neck to be bothered because I’m looking at the neck of my guitar. I have a bothersome ailment on the sole of my right foot loosely termed “metatarsalgia” which makes hiking or long walks almost impossible without a high degree of discomfort.

I had right neck and arm problems from “IPhone-itis,” a term my doctor insists I coined.

Sin is a lot like repetitive strain injuries. It’s easy to say: “Well, just stop…” I can’t stop playing a guitar anymore than you can stop breathing. There is a Bob Newhart skit that offends some, but I see the humor in it because I see myself in the patient who just can’t stop falling into her morbid psychosis. (To see the Newhart skit, copy and paste: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow0lr63y4Mw)

I can’t seem to stop some repetitive sins and everyone I know finds some relief in St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans.

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Romans 7:15

Fortunately, the great saint doesn’t just lead us into a closed canyon. There’s a way through. Jesus paid for these sins once for all for those who receive His gift of salvation. As for the matter of post-salvation sin, Paul muddles his way past confession and into victory. Do we get victory every time? Ask your physical therapist.

But we can change our lifestyle to facilitate not re-aggravating the injury. So it is with sin. If television or the internet causes you to sin, cut it off, curb it, substitute a different activity, call a trusted friend. I have actually fasted from sin. You may think I’m silly, but it works. I simply don’t abide in overeating or sweets or whatever it is that repetitively takes me away from Jesus. It’s effective.

If repetition works to enslave us, then repetition of sin’s opposite activity can certainly bring freedom. “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8:6  There is freedom in this life. We may fail some of the time, but God does complete His work in us. Don’t give up.

For those who want to rationalize away their repetitive sin by stating that God is loving and forgiving, Paul acts like a bureaucrat who has regulated away that loophole:

Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”  Romans 6:1,2

So, while we can’t use mercy to sin, Paul realized that we still will fall into the arms of grace “repeatedly.”

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” Romans 8:1

 

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In the 2013 NBA Basketball Finals, the San Antonio Spurs had a five-point lead in Game 6 with 28 seconds to go in the game and somehow let that clincher slip through their hands, including their ring fingers.

The talk on the street was that they were older and the window of opportunity for another championship might have closed forever, at least with the aging line-up they had at that point.

When a championship team is that close to popping the champagne only to find themselves popping open a bottle of Excedrin, it would be understandable if a player or coach just couldn’t forget.

It sets up quite a paradox. To forget takes the sting out of the loss and allows you to move on. To remember could breed remorse, second thoughts and lack of confidence.

What’s a coach to do? Gregg Popovich decided to remember. He used last year’s excruciating loss to fuel this year’s wins and, in so  doing, chose to concentrate on history being made this year. And it’s now “yesterday’s newspaper” to say he did.

But there’s also a lesson in the remarks made by Spurs superstars Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili that played into the psyche of these “Comeback Kids.” The former said they left it behind and the latter said they couldn’t let this year’s opportunity slip away. Don’t look back, look ahead. It all sounds so easy except that our individual histories often tail us closer than a private eye.

It’s universal. We all have things that have slipped through our fingers and whether it took 28 seconds or 28 years. Climbing back up the mountain takes what Coach Popovich calls “fortitude.” It’s defined as moral strength or firmness of mind.

To forget or to remember, that is the question. The World Champion Spurs taught us the answer to the paradox: do both.

BELOW: Humble Tim Duncan finally lets loose, the Spurs excitement called “like little boys” and Pop gets to pop year-old Champagne.

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We traditionally honor our earthly dads on Father’s Day as we should. It’s also a good day to say aloud, “The Our Father,” being that dads are supposed to represent Father God.

Your dad may have scored 67% on the Father-God test or may have failed miserably, perhaps being absorbed in lesser things than raising you. But, even if you were fortunate enough to get a “Dear Old Dad” and he did a great job, no father represents Father God perfectly. That doesn’t change the fact that we have a perfect Papa. He will prove again and again that He’s near you and me and even when we can’t seem to see Him, He hears us.

A few years back, I was sitting on a porch watching the sunrise over the Sea of Galilee in Israel. A little boy appeared across the street anxiously scurrying around, obviously looking for something. Again and again, he cried, “Abba! Abba! Abba!” Finally, his dad appeared with the little boy’s back pack and the little guy immediately settled down. His father wasn’t frantic. His dad had the goods. His dad had the keys to the car that would trek his son off to school. The young student would be on time, at that.

We have this personal Father God. Yet, we also have the “Our” Father; the One who is the Dad of all mankind.

“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named…” The Apostle Paul from Ephesians 3:14,15

The latest crisis in the Middle East can lead us to conjure up questions like, “Is this THE end?” or “Is the world going to be in ruins?” As the world seems to spin out of control, it may be hard for some of us to trust the Father-Figure of The Trinity. It reminds me of an old poem about a father who comes down at night, finds the house a mess, picks up all of the toys and puts every one back where they belong.

So as we say the “Our Father” either to ourselves or with a congregation, let’s abandon our fears and settle down like that little boy in Israel.

BELOW: (LEFT) MY LATE DAD, PAUL, HOLDING MY DAUGHTER GUINEVERE. (RIGHT) MY ADOPTED FATHER, THE LATE ROYAL CUTLER, HOLDING GUINEVERE’S BABY, GRANT, A FEW YEARS BACK. SUNRISE OVER THE SEA OF GALILEE. 

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Normandy Beach screams, “Seventy years ago!” We are arrested by its cry just as sure as many GI’s were stopped in their tracks by the 1,200-rounds-per-minute German machine gun called the  MG-42.

History buffs and military friends alike seem to have their favorite (oxymoron?) battle and a complete exposition on why it was the most decisive, courageous, underdoggish or turnaround conflict in the  (fill-in-the-blank)   war or in the history of our country.

They will list inspiring names like Normandy or Chosin in the Korean conflict,  the Battle of Saratoga or Trenton (depending on what state you live in) in The Revolution or Gettysburg in the Civil War or, again, (fill in the blank).

We all have personal battles that will define us and become our “un”favorite. They will take some courage and hopefully some friends and family to get through.

I saw a woman at a recent conference who walked with a limp and I wondered what she has had to do to win her battle. I viewed a documentary on obesity and felt for those who were losing their skirmish with weight.

Another friend said his back and gout were so bad he had to go down his stairs on his backside. I know people with father wounds who lick them as we speak. There are those who struggle with their sexual identity and those who can’t seem to win the fight over stress or finances. And I work with so many seniors who are walking under the weight of aging-related issues wondering which one will eventually take their lives.

Choose your battle. It’s there.

Just the other day, I felt bad that I was forced into going to a lumber yard on a national holiday. I try to honor the day with more ceremonial behavior. Wearing my guilt, I pull into the parking lot… only to find out that the place was packed. Sparring with the battle over time, I wasn’t the only one who had succumbed.

If we didn’t have a battle to fight, we wouldn’t understand the ravages, scars and plight of the personal conflicts that others are fighting – some desperately. If we fail to recognize and confront our own battles, we could easily fall into the trap of judging others.

Battles call for allies. Lafayette was a Frenchman who assisted Washington in the Revolution and was actually there for the British surrender at Yorktown. Many others helped America break out of its bondage.

I pray that we’d become allies who will help other move toward victory and not bombard them so as to make them any more shellshocked than they are already. The war is all around us. Just choose your battles.

BELOW: SMILE WHEN YOU SEE SOMEONE AT THE PHARMACY COUNTER BECAUSE THEY ARE PROBABLY FIGHTING THEIR OWN BATTLE AS EVIDENCED BY THE HUNDREDS OF PRODUCTS FOR EACH PERSONAL WAR.

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A television correspondent traveling with The President to Normandy Beach to mark the seventieth anniversary of D-Day remarked that seeing the multitude of rows of crosses lined up moved him so intensely as he thought that about how these men were willing to lay down their lives to protect ours.

There is just one cross high upon a hill in San Diego called the Mt. Soledad cross and it is in the fight of its life. It sits in the middle of a veteran’s park. It is the subject of the longest-running lawsuit of its kind in the history of the United States – the same country that led the Normandy invasion. An atheist sued to have it removed. That was 25 years ago.

While a cross is unquestionably the predominate symbol of Christianity, it’s was deliberately “borrowed” by all of the branches of our military to represent the highest sacrifice as if to quote its originator: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

I will not detour to arguments about how the cross has been used to express anti-semitism and bigotry toward other faiths and therefore is not representative of others and is, in fact, insulting to them. For while history readily reveals verifiable abuses of the cross by man, judging by the number of crosses at Normandy, it can be easily deduced that many who call Christ their king were willing to put His words into action on behalf of others’ faiths and cultures.

The battle over the Mt. Soledad cross is so sublime because it essentially says, that regardless of our faith or culture, the concept of self-sacrifice is no longer the highest ideal and the centerpiece of our country and cannot therefore “rest” in the center of the vet’s well-earned park in San Diego and perhaps a thousand other places.

There is a major motion picture being made about the symbolism of the Mt. Soledad cross and it is facing an uphill fight, as well. It’s a financial battle. If you would like to know more about it, go to keep cross.net and you will learn how you can sacrifice so that the cross in general will stand forever to remind us that the ideal of those who ran into 1200-rounds-per-minute on June 6, 1944 will never be forgotten.

BELOW: SACRED SITES – NORMANDY GRAVEYARD AND MT. SOLEDAD

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Saying “Goodbye”

It’s a familiar sight. Hundreds of times, I’ve seen the back of the bronze CRV rolling out of our driveway at 6:45 a.m. And hundreds of times I get sad. She is gone. I am alone.

I have a dear son-in-law who would get a little depressed at airports because they meant “Goodbye” to him as the son of a missionary. And speaking of airports, my bride still cries every time we unload the baggage out of that same CRV in front of Albany International Airport.

I’ll never forget seeing a loved one leave our home, close the car door and drive away. Surreal. 

Then there was the time when my wife and I watched the plane for what seemed a long time, but was probably just minutes. It finally disappeared into the clouds carrying my daughter to what now seems to be a permanent destination thousands of miles away. “You can always visit her,” says my wife, trying to cheer me up.

Setting up another apartment in Boston for a college-bound daughter and driving away set up another waterfall of emotions for my wife.

We hate to leave them or for them to leave us.

Yet, just this morning, I remembered that at the end of my wife’s 6:45 departure is her 7 a.m. arrival at a kennel that means the world to her. Surrounded by dogs and her literal “Tom” cat, my part-feline wife is in her element and I wouldn’t take that away from her. It’s embarrassing to admit that she’s only there for a few hours a day, but something is missing while she is gone.

And whether it’s five miles away at a kennel or 150 miles in Boston or 3,000 miles away in Portland, I have to remember to be happy for them wherever they are because that is where they want to be or belong.

I’m getting older. I’ll attend more funerals. Could it be that the Good Lord has been bringing me through some trial runs?

“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2

 

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